Tag Archives: Bruce Stewart

A. Kennedy & Co., Ship Chandler and Sailmaker

Advertisement in Duncan Campbell’s History of Prince Edward Island, 1875

Robert Harris drawing of lower Queen Street ca. 1875. Confederation Centre Art Gallery CAGH-122

A few months ago I posted an entry which featured a drawing of the lower part of Queen Street by artist Robert Harris which probably dated from the 1870s. The drawing featured a number of buildings long since gone. At the time of the posting I lamented the fact that there did not seem to be any photos of the area. There were, of course, and they were hiding in plain sight at the Public Archives and Records Office. Once I tripped over them again I realized that they helped tell the story of an important feature of the waterfront and a tale of mercantile longevity on the Charlottetown waterfront extending almost a century and a half.

An essential part of any town with a nautical connection was a chandlery. The word is seldom encountered today with the decline of shipping, but until the middle of the 20th century it identified a business dedicated to supplying the wants and needs of those on the seas. This included materials and supplies for shipbuilding such as ironwork, blocks, tackle, ropes, chain, wire rigging, and anchors. The shops also supplied navigation equipment and charts, paint, tar, provisions, clothing and the like. Fishing supplies for the hundreds of fishers operating out of the small harbours of the Island were also a significant part of the chandlery businesses. They often advertised “everything from a needle to an anchor.”  The chandleries usually included the supply of canvass and many had in-house sailmakers or worked closely with a local sail loft. There was no such thing as a standard sail size at the time and each sail was custom made and cut and stitched by hand.  Sail making was one of the dozens of skilled crafts that accompanied the age of sail.

There were a number of chandleries and sail lofts on the Charlottetown waterfront. Small’s at the head of Pownal Wharf was one but one of the most long-lived was A. Kennedy and Company. The “A” in A. Kennedy was Archibald, was born in Greenock Scotland in 1816. He appears to have commenced business as a sail maker at the head of Peake’s Wharf in Charlottetown in 1846 as an 1866 advertisement thanks patrons for twenty year’s patronage. In that year he opened his chandlery under the name A. Kennedy & Co. in the location at the head of Queens wharf in the building formerly occupied by P.W. Hyndman.   This is probably the structure pictured below.

A. Kennedy & Co. corner of Queen and Lower Water Street ca 1875. Public Archives and Records Office item 2320 p-3

His building was at the corner of Queen and Peake Street  (later Lower Water Street) and is clearly the building which can be seen in the centre of the Harris sketch mentioned above. The building pre-dates the great file of 1866 which destroyed more than four blocks of buildings north of Water Street.   Besides the chandlery business Kennedy also owned shares in a number of sailing vessels (frequently in partnership with F.W. Hyndman) and a 1/64 share in the steamer Prince Edward. A long-time director of the St. Lawrence Marine Insurance Company In 1876 he was named President of the company.  He was also a city councilor, member of the school board and a director of the Prince Edward Island Hospital.  His several business interests and investments appear by and large, to have been successful and at the time of his death in 1903 his estate was valued at $47,500, about $1.4 million in 2020 dollars.  He and his wife had no children and his properties and the chandlery were left to his wife’s brother, Robert McLaurin.

Charlottetown Examiner 14 February 1910 p. 7

Robert McLaurin died in 1909 and the business was put up for sale by his executors. At the time it consisted of the store on  Queen Street as well as a separate sail loft on Lower Water Street. Although the age of sail was nearing and end with few new boats being launched there were still dozens of small schooners plying Island waters. Even with care, sails wore quickly and the sail loft business continued to be a niche service.

Ownership passed to Bruce Stewart and Company which had developed another of the waterfront business at the head of the Steam Navigation Wharf servicing the marine interests with a foundry and manufacturing business which was soon producing gasoline engines for small craft as well as a variety of machine and boiler skills for larger vessels including the steamers of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company. The name over the door of the store was changed to Bruce Stewart & Co. but the sign also stated “successors to A. Kennedy and Company.” The firm advertised itself as “The Ship Chandlery Men” indicating that the good will of the Kennedy company was an important asset.

Bruce Stewart chandlery (A. Kennedy & Co.) ca. 1914. Lower Water Street at right of photo. Public Archives and Records Office item 3466/HF76.124.4

Charlottetown Examiner 1 April 1910 p. 8

Under the Bruce Stewart name, and reflecting the decline in nautical trades, the business evolved to more fishery supplies such as nets and ropes and equipment for the increasingly important lobster industry. At the same time the owners also began to advertise extensively as a supplier of farm and hardware needs such as paint and building supplies although they do not seem to have been involved in the lumber trade.

The separate identity of A. Kennedy & Co. seems to have been retained and the business may have been spun-off from Bruce Stewart as a separate company as the store operated into the 1950s on Queen Street, although not at the corner of Lower Water Street as that property had been demolished with the building of the large new warehouses for wholesalers DeBlois Brothers in the 1930s. Instead they re-located a block north to the NE corner of Queen and Water Streets The company’s slogan in the 1950s was “The Fisherman’s Friend”  In the 1960s the nature of the business changed and the chandlery operations were taken over by Atlantic  Netting Rope and Twine which is still in the marine supply business.  A. Kennedy & Co. became an auction house and antique dealer on Dorchester Street. In the current century the business was moved to Hampton and the sign for A. Kennedy & Co. could be spotted in a former general store along the highway. Both the store and the sign have since disappeared.





Delight in the Details; One Photo – Many Stories

The winter of 1905 was a long one for the Island. The ships of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company, faced with ice forming in the Strait, ceased crossing and were laid up on 12 December 1904. They would not begin to run again until 24 April 1905. Their cross-strait duties were taken over by the Dominion Government Steamers; the Stanley and the Minto, and crossings soon shifted from Charlottetown to Summerside and Georgetown although it was not long before the ice blocked the harbour of Summerside as well.  Government steamers without ice protection such as the survey vessels working on mapping the coastline of Newfoundland had tied up even before the Steam Navigation Company boats and their crews were discharged for the season.

The photo above, taken sometime in 1905, shows the wharves as completely ice-locked.  The unknown photographer is standing in the track of a horse and sleigh which has crossed from the Southport shore. In close-up bushing can be seen on the ice marking the safe routes which began at  the foot of Great George Street extended up the West River and across the harbour.

In this detail you can see the Plant Line terminal building with its characteristic truncated gables and moored alongside the Plant Line Wharf are the three-masted Royal Navy survey ship Ellinor and ahead of her the Canadian Government Steamship Gulnare. In winter ships were not tied tightly to the wharves to allow ice to form around them and ride up and down with the tide. What appears to be a canvas cover has been erected over the decks of the Ellinor to protect them from the snow. Ships boats and other removable equipment have been moved from the ships to indoor storage.   The scene is overseen by St. Dunstan’s Cathedral and the Christian Brothers School at the head of Great George Street. If you look closely you can see the spruce poles marking the bushed route across the ice.

Moored across the end of the Steam Navigation Company wharf is the S.S. Princess. Behind her are the shops and warehouses of the Bruce Stewart and Company foundry and factory. There appears to be a major overhaul of the Princess underway. The funnel has been removed from the ship and a derrick is in place over the boiler and engine room space. Annual re-fitting of steamers was a mainstay of the Bruce Stewart business.  Above the Princess the five-story tower of the Victoria Hotel at the corner of Great George and Water streets, and the spires of the Presbyterian and Anglican churches can be seen.

The easternmost section of the photo shows the area between the Steam Navigation wharf and the Prince Street Ferry Wharf.  In front of the bow of the Princess, the wooden City of London and the Steam Navigation Company’s flagship, the S.S. Northumberland, are lying in the basin between the two wharves.  The funnel of the Northumberland has been topped with a large cone to keep snow from filling the funnel and causing rust in the engine area. The two masts of a schooner show that another vessel is frozen in just ahead of the City of London. The huge roof of the Methodist Church (now Trinity United) looms over smaller buildings. Just visible to the right is the cupola of the roundhouse of the Prince Edward Island Railway at the south-east corner of Prince Street and Water Street.

Owing to the quality of the glass-plate negatives used to take photographs at the turn of the twentieth century and before, details can be found buried in the background of many period pictures.  While the overall scene and the beauty of the composition can be seen from a distance the real stories often require a magnifying glass.

Steampower on the Charlottetown Waterfront

The hallmark of the industrial revolution was the application of steam power to industrial activities. Within a few decades steam had moved from being used to pump out mines to powering ships and even railways. By the mid-1830s steamships were regular visitors to Charlottetown. In nearby Pictou there was talk of steam power for the tramways connecting the mines of the General Mining Association and the harbour.

Gainsford House, Water Street. Photo by Natalie Munn, City of Charlottetown

Steam also came to Charlottetown although it turned out to be a bit of a false start. John Gainsford was a successful grocer, merchant and brickmaker who owned one of the water lots on the south-west corner of Water and Great George Streets where his brick house still stands. In the summer of 1836 he imported two five-horsepower steam engines into the colony and later that year helped organize the Steam Mill Company of Charlottetown.

The organizers recognized that while the colony had excellent timber resources and the developing farms were able to supply grain for home consumption and export the small water mills near the town at Bird Island Creek and Ellen’s Creek were ill-equipped to meet the needs. Gainsford had the steam engines and an ideal place on the Charlottetown waterfront where grain and timber could be brought across the water from farm and forest. What he apparently did not have was the additional capital to build the mill and extend the wharf.

Wharf area at the foot of Great George Street. Although drawn 20 years after the building of the Stream Mill Wharf a building which may be the mill is shown on the wharf .

He was successful in convincing others in the colony of the opportunity and he and his partners turned to a new way of doing business – the joint stock company.  This had never been used before on Prince Edward Island.  The capital for the company was split into shares and the investors could purchase more than one share.  Furthermore under the terms of the legislation creating the company the liability of the shareholders could be limited to what they had actually invested rather than exposing their other assets as was the case with a simple partnership.

Gainsford put his engines and property on the table as his share and he received 46 of the 151 shares. All of the other shareholders had to put up actual funds – £10 for each share.  To make it easier the shares could be paid on installments as the funds were needed. Using what turned out to be somewhat optimistic revenue and cost figures it was calculated that in the first year of operation  there would be a 40% return.  Shares were purchased by many of the leading merchants of the town.  In the 1837 session of the Legislature a bill creating the Steam Mill Company of Charlottetown was passed and things began to move quickly. The existing wharf on the water lot was extended so that it ran about 170 feet along the waterfront and about 80 feet from the shore giving 6 feet of water at the face of the wharf at high tide.  A tender was awarded for a building about 45 feet square sited on the wharf to house the engines, the saws and the grinding stones for the grist mill.  A well was dug and pipes laid to supply the fresh water necessary for the steam engines. Gainsford was hired as superintendent and engineer.

Site of the Steam Mill wharf at the west side of Great George Street. The building to the west of the vessel may be the original steam mill structure.

Then things began to slow down. Costs had been higher than expected for the land and buildings. The share payments from shareholders started to taper off and the whole project was taking more time than anticipated.  Shareholders wanted the mill put into immediate operation so that revenues would start to flow. Instead late in 1837 they were presented with accounts that showed there was a deficit of over £300 and there remained at least £60 more to be spent before the mill was operable. Creditors began to press and suppliers and contractors had not been paid.  The mill seems to have sat unfinished through 1838 and the shareholders would wait no longer. Undercapitalized and with only a distant hope of profit the company could not continue.

In the Steam Mill Act there was a clause inserted to limit losses. Whenever the accounts showed that one-third of the capital had been lost or when two thirds of the shareholders required then the venture would be wound up. In September 1838 the mill and property were offered for sale, initially as a going concern and failing that to be auctioned.

The last meeting of the company was held a year later for the final approval of the accounts. The largest creditor was shipbuilder James Peake who was still owed more than £140. The contractors Smith & Wright were out more than £90.  Gainsford lost his steam engines and his water lot but apparently no additional money.  It appears that James Peake ended up with the Steam Mill wharf which became part of his large landholding on the Charlottetown waterfront.  As other wharves were built and extended to the channel the Steam Mill wharf remained a stubby protrusion barely leaving the shoreline but it was used for shipbuilding.  In 1843 it was the site of the British North American Circus. It is not known if Peake finished the mill and put it into operation but within a few years there were steam engines in operation elsewhere in the Town.  In the 1840s both the Scantlebury carriage factory on Kent Street and Coles Brewery were advertising that they were powered by steam.

The foot of Great George street remained for years as the industrial centre of the waterfront. It was the site of a number of sash and door factories and most recently as the MacDonald Rowe woodworking company. Nearby was the Bruce Stewart factory and foundry.  Although some of the buildings in the area have been turned to  touristic uses other traces of the industrial heritage of the waterfront have almost all disappeared.

Note:  An extended research paper on the Steam Mill Company of Charlottetown has been posted on the detailed research documents page of this site found here.